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Clin Exp Immunol. 1991 Oct;86(1):22-9.

Cytotoxicity of human natural killer (NK) cell subsets for Plasmodium falciparum erythrocytic schizonts: stimulation by cytokines and inhibition by neomycin.

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Department of Haematology, London Hospital Medical College, England, UK.


Quantification of human peripheral blood NK subsets has been made in a group of Kenyan adults and children with acute P. falciparum malaria. Results were compared with data obtained from three age- and sex-matched control cohorts: parasitaemic but asymptomatic children; aparasitaemic children and adults; and adult Caucasians with no previous history of malaria. Separated NK subsets were tested in vitro for cytotoxicity to erythrocytic schizonts of P. falciparum in the presence and absence of cytokines. There was a statistically significant quantitative and qualitative depression of the CD3-CD56+ subset in patients with acute malaria and this was accompanied by an expansion of the 'non-functional' CD3-CD57+CD16-CD56- subset. Both CD3-CD16+ and CD3-CD56+ NK cells from all patients and donors lysed schizonts, and this cytotoxicity was enhanced by the addition of recombinant interferon-alpha and/or IL-2, notably with the CD3-CD56+ subset. Interestingly, asymptomatic donors had the highest levels of CD3-CD56+ NK cells, which also demonstrated an enhanced response to cytokine stimulation. Cytotoxicity to schizonts was accompanied by the release of soluble NK cell lytic factors. Neomycin suppressed cytotoxicity in a dose-dependent manner, indicating that the lysis of schizonts by NK cells involves phospholipase C-mediated phosphoinositide metabolism. Our findings define a role for NK cells in immunity to malaria through the lysis of infected erythrocytes as a first-line defence against the parasite.

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